Several major retailers have recently announced new policies regarding open carry of firearms in their stores. A month after the Aug. 3 mass shooting that left 22 people dead at one of their stores in El Paso, TX, Walmart announced that they were asking customers to no longer openly carry guns in their stores and ending sales of handgun ammunition. Within a week, Kroger, CVS, Walgreens, Wegmans, Publix, and Aldi had all made similar statements about open carry in their stores, Walmart and Kroger went even further by calling on Congress to take action to stem the tide of gun violence in this country.
We thought it would be helpful to describe the current firearms carry laws in Georgia and discuss the implications of the stores’ new policies. Any person with a valid Weapons Carry License can carry a firearm in Georgia. License holders generally may carry a handgun in public in either a concealed or open fashion. Carrying means that you have present control - the gun is on your person - in your purse, briefcase, holster, or pocket. ‘Concealed carry’ means carried in such a fashion that does not actively solicit the attention of others and is not prominently, openly, and intentionally displayed except for purposes of defense of self or others (OCGA § 16-11-127.1). ‘Open carry' is simply that, not concealed.
The Weapons Carry License authorizes a resident to carry a firearm in any Georgia county. Applicants at least 21 years old, apply to their county Probate Judge and are subjected to a background check. There is no requirement to complete any firearms training (OCGA § 16-11-129). Georgia also recognizes licenses issued in other states (OCGA § 16-11-126 (e)).
You can possess or carry a weapon without a Weapons Carry License in your OWN home, property, and motor vehicle; and a place of business that you own or control; and while you are engaged in hunting, fishing, or sport shooting if you have a valid hunting/fishing license. Weapons may be carried with a Weapons Carry License in additional places such as bars, parks, government buildings (unless it has a manned security screening station, but still not in courthouses, jails), places of worship (if approved by the church’s governing body), public transportation, and non-secure areas of airports. (This provides examples of where you can carry but does not list every permitted area. Georgia law does list areas where firearms cannot be carried (OCGA § 16-11-127).) There is an important exception relevant to the new Walmart policy. Private property, business/owners/lessees, and employers may ‘exclude or eject’ carrying in or on their property. (http://www.ccboc.com/document_center/Probate_Court/Possession%20and%20Carry%20of%20Firearms%20Under%20Georgia%20Law.pdf )
There are also specific laws in Georgia governing firearms in schools. ( https://lawcenter.giffords.org/guns-in-schools-in-georgia/ )
It may seem like the steps that Walmart and other businesses have taken to their gun policies happened overnight, but gun violence prevention groups have been pressuring these companies to change their open carry policy for years. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, started asking companies to stop allowing open carry in their stores in 2014. She noticed that Starbucks was asking customers not to smoke within 25 feet of their stores, but they were allowing people to openly carry guns inside. Starbucks obliged, along with Target and Chipotle, but Kroger did not change their policy until this month. Walmart has been gradually making changes over the years that go beyond what federal law requires on gun safety, like raising the minimum age required to purchase a gun to 21.
The policies of these stores stop short of an outright ban on open carry – they are requesting that customers refrain from openly carrying, rather than prohibiting it. While they have the right to ban guns outright from their stores, they are trying to avoid putting their employees in the difficult (and potentially dangerous) position of asking armed customers to leave. Walmart has said that they will follow state laws regarding concealed carry in their stores, while CVS’s statement asks customers to not bring firearms into their stores, period. The semantics may differ slightly from store to store, and the policies could go further, but the overall message these stores are sending is that they no longer want guns in their stores. We applaud these actions- they represent a major cultural shift.
Now, all shoppers in these stores can feel safer and will not have to wonder whether the person with a gun in the cereal aisle has good or bad intentions. The dangerous trend of normalizing guns everywhere will be slowed and now that major corporations are taking a stand in the gun debate, maybe Congress will listen. As Doug McMillon, the CEO of Walmart, said in his recent statement, “The status quo is unacceptable.”
Concerned Citizens and Supporters of Moms Demand Action